Cartoons are a blend of humour and visuals that represent a point of view. So, what does it take to be a cartoonist?
Bal Thackeray used cartooning as the medium to vent his political ideas in his weekly magazine Marmik, in the 1960s, before founding the Shiv Sena. His contemporary and colleague in the Free Press Journal, R.K. Laxman went on to become one of India’s most well-known political cartoonists, and his Common Man cartoon is indelible.
For those aspiring to become a cartoonist, the foremost prerequisite is to have good drawing skills that require consistent practice. Ajit Ninan, cartoonist, The Times of India, says, “The aspirant should regularly practise on his sketchbook. He must study the physical world everyday and have a ‘visual memory’ of political party and religious symbols, physical features of prominent personalities, mythological characters, architecture, etc.”
Though, cartooning is not limited to drawing. It requires a person to have ideas that can be translated visually. It is important to be well-versed with current events and read on a variety of things. The idea being that the cartoonist should be able to write captions, besides conceiving the idea.
It is also imperative for aspirants to follow the works of cartoonists. There are a number of cartoonists who have carved a niche for themselves in different spheres of cartooning. Notable cartoonists include Abu Abraham, Saul Steinberg, K. Shankar Pillai, Winsor McCay, John Leech, James Gillgray, Sergio Aragonés, Boris Yefimov, Billy DeBeck, Carl Giles, and Charles Addams.
The works of 18th-century satirist William Hogarth should also be studied. His artworks are said to have predated the comic art form. In fact, David Low, one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th century, believed him to be the grandfather of political cartooning. Hogarth’s satirical works, such as Gin Lane and A Rake’s Progress, were not only known for the quality of the drawings, but also for the strong social message they carried, making them the archetype for political cartooning we see today in newspapers across continents.
Political cartooning falls in a niche zone, where only a few cartoonists have an earmarked space in newspapers for exhibiting their work. It’s a long journey for those aspiring to become a political cartoonist. “There’s lot of hard work in the initial 10 years. It’s a trial and error process —you can never be sure. It takes a long time to groom oneself as a cartoonist before getting the right break,” says Keshav, cartoonist, The Hindu.
However, the cartooning industry has evolved and offers options in advertising and web, besides the traditional domain of comics and publishing. E.P. Unny, cartoonist, The Indian Express, says, “Job roles will be redefined in the coming years. With opportunities for better income, cartoonists will be able to explore beyond the print media for a wider market.”
Freelancing offers a number of avenues for cartoonists. Phani Tetali, professor, Industrial Design Centre, IIT, Mumbai, says, “It is important for students to build their portfolio, which means keeping a stock of their drawings. Freelancing pays and one should work with several publications at a time.”
As far as illustrators are concerned, they can find opportunities in newspapers, magazines and books. There are many cartoonists who do illustrations to maintain a steady income. The publishing industry, especially children’s books, also has a good market.
The Indian comic industry, though, has a limited market. B.G. Gujjurappa, art director, Indya Comics, says, “There are very few entrepreneurs in the comic book industry in India.” Bonny Thomas, former cartoonist with The Economic Times, agrees, “The Indian cartoon market is still monopolised by the West, as is the case with comic strips that feature in newspapers.”
Though graphic novels are a rage in the West, they are making a gradual foray into the Indian market.
There is good scope for cartooning online. Cartoonists can find work in the advertising industry too, both print and otherwise. Animation is steadily being used as a tool in television advertisements.
At a global level, cartoons can be sent to major cartoon syndicates. However, this platform works well for experienced cartoonists. Thousands send their works to these syndicates, so this should not be understood as a shortcut.
No traditional schools
Unlike a plethora of institutions offering courses in painting, sculpting and photography, there are no established courses in cartooning in the country. In fact, seasoned cartoonists commonly agree that no one can be trained to become a cartoonist in traditional schools.
Though, for those interested in cartoon animation, there are a number of animation institutes, both in India and the world. The Masters in Animation Design course at IIT has an elective on Anatomy & Drawing, besides the Illustration elective where students are required to design a children’s book with text and visuals. So, it may be useful for you to look up the course outlines, and identify the right course.
You could also consider NID, FTII, Whistling Woods International, BIT, C-DAC and ZICA. Animation pays well and is quite the best for those starting out in this industry. Companies that hire animation cartoonists, include Amar Chitra Katha, Mumbai; Toonz Animation, Thiruvananthapuram; and Greengold, Hyderabad, among others.
The Indian Institute for Cartooning, Bangalore, offers a two-day foundation course on cartooning for people of all age groups. Caricatures, animation, doodles, strip cartoons and comics are covered in this workshop.